I am very fond of walking. Often, I walk alone and enjoy spending time with God as I drink in the beauty of his creation. It is how I process my thoughts, pray, and settle my soul back into resting in him. He never fails to meet me there, whether it be to quieten my spirit or provide an “aha” piece of wisdom.
Going for a walk (or even a hike) with a friend is also one of my favorite ways to touch base and foster genuine connection. It is casual; yet intentional and focused—often leading to more heart-to-heart conversation than would happen when sitting in a coffee shop.
The image of walking alongside a friend is what the Paraklesis Model of Christian Counselling brings to mind for me, and what a beautiful model it is.
Professor Mervin van der Spuy founded Paraklesis Counselling in 1992 and his journey with SATS began in 2001. “Paraklesis” means to “come alongside,” inspired by the Greek term for the Holy Spirit: “parakletos,” the advocate. While we often associate an advocate with legal practice, the Analytical Greek Lexicon (1973, 303) adds the following to the definition: “one called or sent for to assist another; … one present to render various beneficial services.” And we also know the Holy Spirit to be our Helper, Counsellor, and Comforter.
The Paraklesis Model is an integrative approach that recognizes the importance of biological, psychological, social, and spiritual factors. It seeks to come alongside someone who is struggling, in love and kindness, doing away with judgement. It first builds trust and relationship, allows both the counsellor and the counselee to experience the Holy Spirit, and equips and empowers the counselee to understand their struggles and the choices available to them.
The responsibility for change is left firmly in God’s hands. Candida Millar (Head of Christian Counselling) put it well during the SATS symposium on this topic when she said, “We are facilitating the engagement of the Holy Spirit with the client.”
We know that showing Christ to those in need of counselling is important, as is relying on the Holy Spirit. In John 14:16–17 (NIV), Jesus said:
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”
We also know that God loves to turn our broken pieces into something beautiful and use them for good, according to his purpose.
I’ve experienced this first-hand in my 22-year-long journey with rheumatoid arthritis. I went through periods of questioning God’s goodness, thinking I was being punished, and feeling hurt because I didn’t understand the “why” of bearing this heavy burden.
Through a combination of professional psychotherapy, reconnecting with trusted fellow believers, and pure grace in my relationship with the Lord, I’ve grown into having a desire to use my experience to help others. This is still a work in progress – Aren’t we all? – but I’m astounded by how God is taking all sorts of pieces of my life and weaving them together into a calling and a future I could never have imagined for myself.
This is why the additional, hoped-for aspect of paracletic counselling resonates deeply with me: the hope that the counselee grows and moves from needing care to using their experience to, in turn, help others. Paul, too, encourages us in this in 2 Corinthians 1:4 (NLT):
“He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.”
The pillars of the Paraklesis Model echo those of SATS: Bible-based, Christ-centred, Spirit-led. Prof Mervin added just one more: psychologically sound. He strived for compassionate care and therapeutic excellence. To this end, SATS and Mervin walked an important road together in developing Christian counselling courses based on this model, and although Mervin recently went to join the Lord, SATS will continue to offer these courses.
One of the tributes to Mervin by a SATS lecturer sums up the influence of this approach to counselling well: “He always steered me towards Christ’s example of non-judgmental acceptance, positive regard, and unselfish love for those who are ‘unlovable’, in our opinion.”
What better way to emulate Christ’s love than to walk alongside those in need?
Short Bio: Carrie Milton is a veterinarian and language practitioner. After completing her Bachelor of Veterinary Science and working with a variety of animals for a number of years, she reawakened her love for the written word. Accredited by the Professional Editors’ Guild, she has tried her hand at everything from theses to fiction.